5 Ways Healthcare Workers Can Manage Holiday Stress

What’s referred to by most as “the most wonderful time of the year” can be anything but that for many.

While the holiday season can be a meaningful opportunity to spend time with family and recharge our batteries, healthcare is one of the few industries exempt from downtime or a more relaxed pace during the winter months. In fact, as many caretakers attest, the holiday months are often especially busy.

By nature, caregivers serve patients because of an internal desire to help the sick and vulnerable members of society. It can be extra taxing during the holiday season, as most patients would much rather be home with loved ones. Nurses especially can spend hours or days with the same patient(s) and naturally become even more empathetic to their pain and suffering during the holiday season.

As caregivers are already expected to “give,” the “season of giving” can leave healthcare workers emotionally and physically exhausted, making their holiday season less enjoyable. These five tips can help caregivers manage stress during the holidays.

5 Tips for Handling Holiday Caregiver Stress

1. Stay Realistic and Honest

While we’re pressured to be extra cheerful during the holiday season, keeping a realistic approach to the season can help manage expectations for the winter months. Depression, “winter blues,” and suicide rates often increase during the holiday season, as does alcohol and drug use. Having an honest expectation of red flags to watch out for and precautions to take for ourselves, as well as others, is especially important during this time of year for caregivers.

2. Remember the Big Picture

It’s important to keep in mind that the holiday season (as stressful as it can be) is only a matter of weeks in the span of your entire year. When feeling overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle, remember to take a deep breath and know that the chaos will pass. It’s also important to keep in mind that not all friends, coworkers, or family members celebrate the same holidays as you might, and they should never feel pressured to participate in activities or traditions that make them feel left out or uncomfortable. During my career in a hospital setting, we learned to include staff with different backgrounds and traditions by promoting a “December potluck” or lunch rather than labeling it as a specific holiday celebration.

3. Plan for What You Can

Although planning ahead is always a good idea, it’s perhaps never more helpful than during the holiday season. Taking simple steps to make to-do lists or getting things done ahead of time will help keep caregivers (or anyone in general) more organized and present during the holidays. Planning also allows you to keep a clear outline of the various activities and obligations you’ve committed to. Instead of overburdening yourself with too many gatherings or commitments, keep a calendar to help you decide which ones you will truly enjoy.

4. Give Wisely

The extra shifts and holiday pay can become enticing for healthcare workers, especially those looking to give expensive gifts to friends and family. Caregivers often become overly ambitious and sign up for multiple overtime or holiday shifts, only to become overfatigued and left scrambling to find a replacement at the last minute—inevitably creating more stress for themselves and even their colleagues trying to fill the shifts. It’s important to remember that while you might have the best of intentions with earning extra pay by picking up overtime or holiday shifts, the gift of your time and your presence (as opposed to presents) is what your friends and family cherish most.

5. Listen to Your Body

The holiday season brings more stress, more travel, and generally less rest. Combined with the peak of cold and flu season, it’s incredibly important for caregivers to take extra measures to stay healthy. Staying active, hydrated, and well rested are key, but remember to take the time to stay centered and focused within yourself, whether it be through meditation or even just a quick 10-15 of deep breaths and relaxation. Your mind and body know best so stay mindful of what you need.

Leadership Lookout

The holiday season can be especially hard on healthcare leaders. Aside from managing the many additional activities and hectic schedules, making sure associates are healthy and safe during the busiest time of the year is also a main priority. Promoting employee engagement can help caregivers feel a greater sense of purpose and belonging – benefiting not only them, but the organization as well.

For more information on employee engagement, download the white paper, “Shining a Light on Employee Engagement.”

Alisha Cornell

Clinical Implementation Consultant, Relias

Alisha is an experienced nurse leader, clinical consultant and nurse informaticist, who understands the role of executive nurse leaders as well as the impact of healthcare on the lives of nurses. Her combination of formal education and lived experiences provides a platform of inspiring others through self-awareness and a purpose driven life. Her commitment to impacting the lives of nurses through servant leadership is driven by her history of managing dynamic nursing teams and conquering life one day at a time. She is a strong advocate for improving self-care among nurses, equal access to healthcare in underserved populations, and improving community health education concerning mental health and social determinants of health.

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